Kashim Imam is running for the governorship ticket of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in Borno State. He had contested for the same position twice as candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2003 and 2007. The businessman-cum politician left the PDP in 2011 when he did not get the ticket for the third time and joined the now defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) which he helped to retain the governorship seat against his former party. After the 2011 election, Mr. Imam was quoted to have given up the quest of being the number one citizen of Borno State.
In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES’ Assistant Editor, Abdulkareem Haruna, Mr. Imam, who is currently the president of the Kings College Old Boys Association, explained why he is returning to contest the governorship. He also shared his dreams for the state, and even revealed how he was pressurised to step down his recent quest to become the National Scribe of the APC.
PT: You were not at the Borno APC stakeholders meeting when the decision to adopt indirect primaries was taken. Are you in support of the decision?
IMAM: I have all my life been a party man, right from my time as the state chairman of SDP (Social Democratic Party), I have always remained with the party. I will abide by what the party decides; whether it is direct primaries or indirect primaries, it does not matter to me because I am a core party man. I also want it on record that the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, has, himself, in appreciating the merits of direct primaries, and in spite of the fact that he is unopposed, insisted that the party should conduct direct presidential primaries. He wanted to give the rank and file and every card carrying member of the APC the opportunity in his primary election. That is what informed his stance that the party should conduct direct primaries.
I have read all the arguments for and against the decision of Borno APC insisting on indirect primaries but I have refused to be dragged into the controversy. That was the reason I chose not to respond to journalists’ messages asking me to comment on the matter when the decision was made. But at the risk of being tagged rude, I decided not to respond so that I won’t be quoted. On this matter, everybody has his personal preference and for me it is not about my personal preference but about what is most democratic.
And the most democratic form of primaries is direct primaries. Even in the United States of America, they conduct direct primaries; in Nigeria under the then SDP and the NRC (National Republican Convention) we conducted direct primaries; no true politician should be afraid of direct primaries. I welcome it and I want every card-carrying member of the APC in Borno State to be given the opportunity to participate in the election or nomination of the APC candidate that will be there representatives, whether in the House of Assembly, or to the House of Reps or to the Senate or the governorship or even the presidential primaries.
So, to that extent, my personal preference is to be given the opportunity to participate in direct primaries because it is the most democratic form of conducting primaries anywhere in the world. However, if it is in the wisdom of the party that we should go for indirect primaries, so be it; and I look forward to it, because the people that will participate in the indirect primaries will still be the same card-carrying members of the APC.
One final argument I want to make on this is if it suggested that we should not conduct direct primaries because of insecurity and we must conduct indirect primaries; does it now also mean that we are not going to conduct general elections? Party primaries is within only the card-carrying members of the APC, but the general election involves every citizen of this state that is 18 years and above, and has the right to participate in the conduct of the election. So, if we say we have insecurity and because of insecurity we cannot hold direct primaries, does it logically follow that because of the same insecurity we are not going to participate in the general elections? No! So if we are going to participate in the general elections through direct popular elections, we can as well also do direct primaries. If we are going to conduct direct primaries in the case of the presidential elections, that should trickle down to the Senate, the governorship, Reps and the House of Assembly.
PT: After the 2011 general elections, you were quoted to have said you have given up the quest to become governor of Borno State. What brings you back to the ring this time around?
IMAM: I personally thought that I was done with this. I have yielded to the voice of the people which they say is the voice of God Almighty. I have also allowed myself the luxury of listening to the arguments of people saying that you are studied, you are experienced, and it will be a waste if you don’t put your service at the disposal of the people. I have listened to the whole of this in arriving at this very heavy decision. It is a huge and enormous sacrifice that I have made in the past 30 years being in politics and it is same sacrifice I am about to make. I think I can even explain with my experience. I returned to my compound one late evening during one of our governorship campaigns accompanied by a huge convoy of supporters and my children ran to me and greeted me. And when I went inside, they had gone to complain to their mother that they had greeted daddy but he didn’t even recognise us. That is one of the enormous sacrifices being made and I have done it for 30 years. If I say that I have done enough, I have every justification. I have been an absentee husband for 30 years, I have been an absentee father for 30 years. Since 1987 I have not had the privilege of enjoying the ideal family life…It is over 30 years now; some (of my children) have done their masters, some have even married; it is a life time that have been lost and I don’t think it can ever be regained.
So it is a matter of enormous sacrifice that we are still making now.
And in answering the second leg of your question, you won’t appreciate why I am coming to the contest until I am sworn in as the next governor of Borno State. Nigeria will never be the same again from the day I am sworn in as governor of Borno State. It takes just one “mad man” to make just a fundamental difference. And believe me, we will make a difference, because it is for the reason of the difference that we are going to make that everybody is afraid of us. It is for the fear of the fundamental difference that people know we can make that I was not allowed to become the APC National Secretary. Yes.
I could remember, during the run up to the APC convention, my friend, Governor Ibikunle Amosun, called me on the phone and told me that he was in front of the Holy Kaaba in Makkah, Saudi Arabia and that he had asked for God’s forgiveness, and he went further to say that he knows God will not forgive him until he asked me to forgive him as well. He said “I know all of us are guilty” but he said he needed to call me and ask for forgiveness. He said he felt guilty because of the role he also played in the issue of selecting the APC national secretary. He said it was because of the fear that if Kashim Imam becomes the APC National Secretary they don’t know what may happen…wow!
PT: What exactly happened on the issue of the APC National Secretary?
IMAM: On the final day to the convention, I was in my house and was counting – and I counted 11 APC governors coming to my house and the last three that visited, came around midnight. And what was their message? “Kashim we know you are the most competent of all the contestants, everybody will testify to that, but…” And I asked them, if I was so competent and the right man for the job, they said “We came to appeal to you to withdraw.” And it was like that. They said I was the most competent person and they came to appeal to me that I should withdraw. So all this while, it has been the fear of Kashim Imam becoming the governor, even my opponents will attest to that.
PT: If as you said you are pressured to come back to contest the governorship, how come your party has 20 contestants?
IMAM: Everyone knows that I attended Kings College Lagos, and presently I am president Kings College Old Boys Association. There is this misconception; people say we are very arrogant. But it is not arrogance. May be it is because of our accolade, which is “There are two secondary schools in Nigeria; Kings College and the others.” But on a more serious note, we have, supposedly 20 aspirants contesting the APC governorship ticket; but in reality it just boils down to two aspirants – which is Kashim Imam and the others. Yes, there are two of us in this contest and that is not lost on me. But I want to assure you that this time around, despite the numbers, we will do everything to get it right.
PT: There is this allegation that you are amongst those tagged Abuja politicians who don’t come home to associate with the people except during elections. How do you react to that?
IMAM: The governor of Borno State was in my house about five days before today, and said to me that from the statement that he has been making – of which he has been at for quite some times – especially during the end of Ramadan celebration when the traditional rulers paid him a homage visit, he also alluded to that; during the last Sallah too, he alluded to that. But he said he did not include me amongst those he labelled Abuja politicians. But to me he had gone much further than that. He was talking about people who despite the challenges of insurgency, a lot of people being displaced, they have not come to bring just one bag of rice. Interestingly, I was at the palace of the Shehu of Borno when I came to submit my nomination form, and His Royal Highness made some remarkable speech which was on record, and can be translated to you and you can as well have the original recording transferred to you electronically. His Majesty said to me, no indigene of Borno, in our entire history, has done more for Borno, than I, Kashim Ibrahim Imam have done for Borno. And I was overwhelmed and honored by this. And he went on and on listing and citing my various contributions, including my contribution to the mosque of which he said I gave N200 million. He said only other individual donation to the completion of the mosque was the sum of N1 million by one Abdu Usman. The Shehu was making public pronouncement when he said it. And I was particularly honored because one of the aspirants in the APC governorship ticket race who is amongst those I referred to as the others, is the first cousin of the Shehu because they have the same grandparents. In spite of that he said, publicly that there is nobody more worthy, nobody more qualified for the job. Even the governor, His Excellency Kashim Shettima, has told me the same thing over and over – not once, and not twice. He said I am not the richest person from Borno, but he said nobody has my kind of heart and nobody has done so much for our people like I do. Apart from the general assistance we provide, I have an annual distribution list of 1000 names for bags of rice and other food items during Ramadan and other festivities. And if the governor is talking about people not coming home to assist, I have that list and have kept and sustained it for many years. This is something which I ordinarily don’t even announce.
When I was at the party secretariat to hand over my nomination form, the party secretariat and the women leader as well as many others spoke about how they said I have touched their lives in many way. So I am the number one indigenous politician and I don’t fall under the list of those whom the governor may have referred to as Abuja politicians. What the governor was talking about was people who don’t come home even once in five years, and so on; people who have not touched lives; I have given a good account of myself in this community and I challenge anybody who has done more to counter me. I am proud of my achievements and I am proud of my relationship with my people and I thank God Almighty who has used me to accomplish all this for the people of this state.
PT: In your speech at the party secretariat, you promised free education for all. To what level would education be free in Borno under your government?
IMAM: By the grace of God, under my watch, education will be free and compulsory in all primary schools. Education will be free in all secondary schools. This is what the state government can and has the authority to implement. Beyond that, we will support our students at the tertiary level by way of scholarships, particularly in the fields of the sciences. But for primary schools, secondary school, it is not going to be a matter of choice. If you like it, I will send your child to school; if you don’t like it I will still send your child to school. The best thing that has happened to me was the privilege that I had of going to school. And I love the fact that I went to Kings College. And we are going to make our schools here in Borno as good as Kings College, Lagos, Insha Allah.
PT: One of the banes of development in Nigeria is the lack of autonomy for local government councils. Government are believed to by feeding fat on the allocations meant for development of local government areas by not conducting election and installation of caretaker committees as LG administrators. What will you do differently if elected as governor of Borno State?
IMAM: I had earlier said that it just takes one mad man to make a difference. I have also said that on the day I am sworn in as governor of Borno State, Nigeria will no longer be the same again. It is not just Borno. Some of the things that I will do include this question you just asked. I pray I will not be forced to divulge my post-election plans so that not only opponents will be fighting me but perhaps even some governors will contribute money to fight against me so that this man, Imam, does not have the chance to come near the government house.
On a more serious note, we will conduct free and fair elections for all local government areas of Borno State when we assume office in 2019. We will give the people the right to participate; we will scrap what is called the joint local government account. Under my watch we will restore the autonomy of all the local government councils, we will allow them to access all the money that are due to them, just as the federal government allows all the money due to the states come to the state. Yes, people feel some of my ideas as a politician are too radical, I am proud to admit that, because I come from a very radical home. And I attended the most radical faculty in Africa, and I have over the years imbibed ideas that are very radical. At the same time, I have tempered it also by being the Mutawali of Borno, a title I took to advance the traditional heritage of my people.
PT: You also talked about massive reconstruction of Borno State, when you addressed party members at the APC secretariat. In this times of economic crunch, coupled with the fact that Borno’s internally generated revenue (IGR) is very low, where do you plan to get funds, outside the statutory allocation, to fund the projects?
IMAM: The first thing we will do as a government is to call a conference on Borno so that all prominent sons and daughters, including our elders, especially retired public servants – of course we have at least 10 retired ambassadors, several retired federal Perm Secs, retired bankers, retired DIGs and AIGs, technocrats etc, we will constitute committees, we will take stock of what we have lost in the insurgency, we must know the number of human lives lost, what is the cost for rebuilding our education, what is the cost on our health; by the time we do this we will then produce a blueprint on Borno. We will then convene a donor conference on rebuilding Borno. And as charity begins from home, I am going to take the lead and I will commit a minimum of N1 billion as my personal contribution to this effort. We will do a national fund raising for Borno and I will invite all of my friends to make donations. More importantly, we are going to do an international donor conference as well. If you recalled, there was an international donor conference on Syria and they raised $18 billion. What we don’t know is that such money for countries with humanitarian crisis is just out there begging to be accessed. It is not a matter of us begging for money, but the money has been begging us. But we cannot access it if we don’t have a blueprint on post-conflict rebuilding. You must clearly spell out what the money is going to be used for before you can access them. There is international commitment that all developed countries must contribute a minimum of 0.7 percent of their GDP to aid. That amounts of trillions of dollars just waiting to be accessed. What do they want in return? Simply to educate our people; create employment for our people so that there will be no exodus to their countries. So that people will not risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean just to get to Europe in search for greener pastures.
So in order to help us keep our people at home, the western powers are ready to assist with our reconstruction efforts provided we produced a salable blueprint that will attract donors for us. We will organise an international donor conference. But sadly when the western powers waited endlessly for us to do the needful, and we failed to act, Germany, three weeks ago took the initiative and hosted a donor conference to which our governor and the governor of Adamawa attended and our governor, His excellency Kashim Shettima, even delivered a paper there. And I got the information that the conference pledged more than $1 billion. So you can imagine if the initiative had come from us. We will put together the necessary blueprint and access the necessary fund to develop Borno state. Under my watch, we will transform Borno and make sure it is at per with some of the states down south. Thank you very much.